Episode 97 VR Workforce Studio
I’ve found my forever job, the Jacob Cotton story with Windmills Training and the ADA/VDA Anniversary
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Laurie Qualey: I think that was like, after the first week he said, “This is it for me.” This has just been a wonderful experience. I’m so thrilled for Jacob, and again, I feel really honored that I get to be a part of this journey moving forward.
Announcer: Four…three..two….one…. VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Jered Lem: Tech Support this is Jered speaking how may I help you?
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Alfred McMillan: I’m a supervisor.
Announcer: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job, and a career, you got to look at how life changing this is.
Announcer: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Announcer: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Announcer: Now here’s the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 97 of the VR Workforce Studio podcast. Betsy, I see you survived the holiday weekend and the firecrackers on the 4th of July.
Betsy Civilette: Oh yeah, Independence Day. And I managed not to burn myself with a bottle rocket this year. But you know me, I’m a word nerd. So as I was getting ready for today’s show and thought about how we promote independence in our mission, really the term interdependence is more appropriate because it’s about relationships, how we depend on each other. And these relationships help us to gain independence. It takes a village, as they say.
Rick Sizemore: And that village is coming together, at least in terms of the disability community’s relationship with business and industry, through something called Windmills training, which is actually a key part of our first story. So let’s take a minute to offer a little background and explanation on Windmills, what it is, where it came from, and how DARS is using it to help the champions of business and industry, who hire people with disabilities, to better understand what it’s like to have someone with a disability on their staff.
Betsy Civilette: This month, we are celebrating the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which makes it the 36th anniversary of the Virginians with Disabilities Act. Since these hallmark pieces of legislation have been enacted, businesses have struggled with some very real stigmas, myths, and stereotypes, which may have caused them to miss out on real opportunities for filling their workforce with people who happen to have disabilities. In many cases, they just needed someone to help them understand the realities and dynamics involved in disability employment, and that is why the California governor’s Committee for the Employment of Disabled Persons developed Windmills training, which has evolved through the years. In fact, it was revised in 2020, and CSAVR has been a national leader with this training, and six of our DARS business development staff went through this training and are now certified. One of them, Nate Mahanes, had this to say about Windmills training.
Nate Mahanes: Windmills is a high impact disability training curriculum aimed at changing the perception of disability that uses participation and discovery as a learning vehicle, and which has a proven history of assisting those with and without disabilities to better understand the culture of disability in the workplace.
Rick Sizemore: Well Betsy, we’ve included a link to a great article on Windmills, as well as contact information for our business development team in case you have questions or liked to get in touch with them. They’ve offered this training now to over 1300 business leaders, educators, and human services professionals, but now one of the most recent success stories about how Windmills has actually made a difference in the front lines of disability employment.
Rick Sizemore: Betsy, I know you love animals, so today we’re meeting not only the administrator of the Anicira Animal Hospital, but a young man with autism who works there as a surgical supply assistant. He’s the first person with a disability to be hired by Anicira, and our business development managers provided that Windmills training to help everyone anticipate what it would be like to have a person with a disability at the hospital.
Rick Sizemore: To really understand this story, it’s important to get the context and the perspective from the business. So before we talk to Jacob, who’s standing by, we welcome Melissa Gilligan, the administrator of the Anicira Animal Hospital in Manassas, Virginia. Welcome, Melissa.
Melissa Gilligan: Thank you very much. Thanks so much for putting this together and for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, we’re very excited. I talked with Nate Mahanes, one of the business development managers yesterday afternoon. Of course, Nate and the other, we call them BDMs, business development managers, are out in the workforce. They’re cultivating relationships with businesses and industry, but Nate says you called him.
Melissa Gilligan: Oh yes.
Rick Sizemore: How did you get interested in hiring people with disabilities?
Melissa Gilligan: We knew we had this surgical supply assistant opening, we knew that we needed somebody in the position. The number of patients we see in a day, just laundry, the volume is very high. We were in Google searching and we just started looking deeper, and had a conversation about it and was like, “We think this would be wonderful. Such a great opportunity, and could find somebody that would be perfect for this position.”
Rick Sizemore: DARS offered your organization a training session referred to as Windmills training. What impact did that have on your operation?
Melissa Gilligan: The Windmills training was wonderful. I was super impressed myself, but the team. It was really well put together, very well thought out. Nate was awesome. He made sure that the team members were interactive, so you certainly weren’t just sitting there, quiet. He was asking questions, engaging. I think that it absolutely had an impact, as far as just opening their eyes to different perspectives with individuals that have disabilities. I know that some of them thought about things that they hadn’t thought of before.
Rick Sizemore: What impact has Jacob had on the culture of Anicira?
Melissa Gilligan: The Anicira team loves working with Jacob. He’s just fit right in. He does have his routine. He has a station that he comes into every day, and he has his routine that he’s in. They just have talked about how much of a help this has truly been, and just how perfect of a fit he is. So we started off with some of the basics, and he’s just grabbed on so quickly that we’ve introduced more and more things. They talked about how, “We have the perfect candidate. We know that we have the perfect candidate,” and they were not kidding.
Rick Sizemore: Melissa Gilligan is the hospital administrator for Anicira Animal Hospital. Thanks for being on our podcast, Melissa.
Melissa Gilligan: Yes, thank you so much.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time to meet Anicira’s new star employee you’ve heard so much about, who says he’s found the perfect job working in an animal hospital, following his involvement with Project Search, the national effort that works with businesses to provide internship based training, often leading to employment. Jacob Cotton is with us this morning in VR Workforce Studio. Welcome, Jacob.
Jacob Cotton: Thanks.
Rick Sizemore: It’s great to have you here. Tell us the story of how you wound up working at an animal hospital.
Jacob Cotton: Well, I do like taking care of animals, especially to my neighbors and my pets at home, our dogs, Cindy and Cooper.
Rick Sizemore: Cindy and Cooper? Oh, that sounds like fun.
Jacob Cotton: I do take good care of animals. I make sure they eat well, have good clean water, plenty of water, and they have plenty of exercise. Like I take them out for a walk, play with them, with the ball.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, what’s the average day like? Just walk us through your day, what you do in your job.
Jacob Cotton: At my job, I do fold laundry, also clean the surgical tools, or a surgical instruments. And I put it away into clean laundry into some places, like in a kitten cage or in a tub where the dogs are. And stacks some boxes and help make e-collars.
Rick Sizemore: Could you take us back and tell us a little bit about what it was like to be in involved in Project Search? What are some of the things you did there?
Jacob Cotton: Well, at Project Search, when we were planning on going to the Manassas Hospital, but apparently since COVID happened, we ended up going to the Apple building. But we did some neat things there. Like we have a volunteer job at Warehouse, where we put food into boxes for families who need the food. And then we have another volunteer job at the hotel, which is quite neat. It’s actually a new hotel that got built. I don’t know when exactly it got finished being built, but it is still new. They also allow dogs at the hotel, which is a Hotel. You should go to the Hotel, you might like it there.
Rick Sizemore: Jacob, I understand while COVID effected Project Search and you had some alternate sites, you were able to do some training out at the hospital. What did you do there?
Jacob Cotton: At the hospital? I learned a lot of things. I transport patients to one room to the x-ray, CAT scan, cath lab, and then back to their original rooms, with the Project Search graduate, Taylor that is his name. I also took a patient to the morgue, which is one of the things that is quite new to me.
Rick Sizemore: Laurie Qualey is an Employment Specialist with Did Lake, and serves as a job coach and a Project Search coordinator. Jacob, we’ll continue our conversation, but I’d like to get Laurie’s perspective on what it was like working with you. Laurie, do you have a favorite story about working with Jacob?
Laurie Qualey: The very first thing that he was supposed to do was to fold these blue surgical towels, and it’s a little tricky, and Jacob, the first thing, he got it right away-
Rick Sizemore: He got it right off the bat?
Laurie Qualey: And then he flies through them. These are the stakes. They have so much laundry care because they’re constantly doing surgeries. This is a huge spay and neuter clinic, they go through so much, and so many towels and things. And Jacob has just stepped in and he does all the folds. He’s amazing. He’s really quick, he’s fast, he does it right every time. He’s been, I know, a huge help to the staff here.
Jacob Cotton: I do know that she does support me, maybe since I, like she said, I am a really quick learner, and I do get the job done like in a flash.
Rick Sizemore: Laurie, tell us how you got involved with Jacob, and this exciting story of him going to work here at the animal hospital.
Laurie Qualey: So I’m the Project Search skills trainer, and so I got to work with all of our interns. We had six this year, and like Jacob told you, we were in a variety of locations because of COVID. We had to be very flexible this year, going from place to place. And we finally managed to go to the hospital, which was awesome because our guys were able to learn even more jobs skills there.
Laurie Qualey: Jacob has always been one of our standouts this whole year. He’s such a hard worker, he’s really good at listening. He’s a go getter, he loves to work, and if you ask him to do something, he says, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” So we knew that Jacob was going to be somebody who would be a great fit for any type of job, but we wanted to make sure that Jacob was somewhere where it was something that he really enjoyed and found meaningful. And of course I knew that Jacob loved animals, so when our DARS counselor, Dena Holinka told us about this opportunity at Anicira, we were like, “Oh, we know the perfect candidate.”
Laurie Qualey: And so I helped Jacob during the application and interview process, and then once he was hired, I helped him with the onboarding, and then I’m still here as his skills trainer to kind of support him learning the tasks. But he’s awesome. He’s such a quick learner, he’s making my job really easy.
Rick Sizemore: Well, so many people have found it difficult to even continue during COVID, and it seems like you all were able to work out several alternative sites and keep the program going?
Laurie Qualey: Yeah, the word of the year was flexible. Everybody involved… our project leadership team, our interns and their families, and then our teacher, Heather Brown and I, yeah, we had to be very flexible to make the program work. But we did, and right now we’ve got four of our interns are hired and two other ones are applying this week and next week. So fingers crossed, we get all six of them, doing again, jobs that they find meaningful and fulfilling. I was lucky enough to sit in on the Windmills training, which I had not done before, and it was amazing. Every single employer where one of my clients worked, I’m going to recommend that training for them and their staff. Because I was so impressed by the level of… It was just such a safe space for folks to really share kind of their preconceived notions about disabilities and kind of their fears, maybe. Unfortunately, people with disabilities a lot of times are marginalized, so folks don’t have a lot of experience. And when you don’t have experience with something, you can kind of be scared of it.
Laurie Qualey: But the Windmills training really kind of, I think, opened people’s eyes to the abilities part, and so much on the dis part, and this atmosphere has been wonderful. I really can’t think of a better place for Jacob to have found his forever home. You told me you wanted to do this forever, right?
Rick Sizemore: Yes.
Laurie Qualey: Yeah, yeah. So I think that was after the first week he said, “This is it for me.” This has just been a wonderful experience, I’m so thrilled for Jacob. And again, I feel really honored that I get to be a part of this journey moving forward.
Rick Sizemore: Well, thank you, Laurie. And Jacob, we wish you nothing but continued success in your new and very rewarding career.
Rick Sizemore: While this is a disability inclusion and employment podcast, we always know that many of our listeners love animals, and many are probably just a little envious, Jacob, of you and this fantastic job that you have. So we’ll ask you to finish up our interview with any thoughts you have about maybe one of your favorite animals.
Jacob Cotton: Waffles is a really playful and kind kitty, and he liked to play with me the most.
Rick Sizemore: Jacob Cotton is a Surgical Supply Assistant at Anicira Animal Hospital in Manassas. We’ll have contact information for the hospital, as well as all of our guests, in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: Most of us celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. At DARS, we celebrate Independence Day every day. Independence, with Virginia’s older adults living at home, independence, as people with significant disabilities develop job skills and find career pathways, independence, as those we serve become mobile, safer, and employed. Because at DARS, we’re driven by independence for Virginia citizens. Learn more at vadars.org.
Rick Sizemore: Well, this month we’re celebrating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as Betsy Civilette joins Ralph Shelman for the Peninsula Center for Independent Living, with reflections on the importance not only of the ADA, but the Virginians with Disabilities Act as well.
Betsy Civilette: So it’s so nice to talk to you today. I am thrilled to speak to such a notable leader in the disability community.
Ralph Shelman: Well, thank you for having me. I’m glad for the opportunity to talk with you today.
Betsy Civilette: Great. Well, Jim Rothrock has spoke fondly of you when we interviewed him last year for the podcast on the 35th anniversary of the Virginians with Disabilities Act, and he mentioned you and other advocates who kind of led the charge for this important piece of civil rights legislation. I’d just like a perspective on how the VDA and the ADA have helped Virginians with disabilities.
Ralph Shelman: The VDA, I like to say, was one of the pieces of legislation that sort of earmarked the movement of people with disabilities in the struggle for their civil rights. In Virginia, it was about five years early, before the ADA, but it gave the impetus for us here in Virginia, to be able to, one, know that we could have an impact on changing public policy, and we could have an impact in changing the way our lives are lived, and the access to community. And through, of course, the ADA, it was able to provide, one… And I think the most important thing that it provided, as the VDA did, it provided to, one, people with disabilities, the confidence and the knowledge that not only do we see ourselves as equal partners in community life, having the right to equal opportunities, but it also stated it for the general public. But I think, first of all, it gave us, the people with disabilities, the confidence and the reassurance to continue to move forward and fight for the rights that we are entitled to.
Betsy Civilette: Well, thank for your thoughts on that. And in today’s episode, we heard a great example from both an employer who’s hired an individual with a disability, and the employee himself, and how it’s impacted his life and his independence and self-sufficiency.
Betsy Civilette: I also heard you speak last year at the Virginia Association of Centers for Independent Living Conference, and that was, again, commemorating the 30th ADA anniversary and 35th VDA. I wrote down something you said, and you said, “With the fire, we can still do good things.” What are some of the things you would still like to see accomplished?
Ralph Shelman: I think we have to, one, maintain the intensity or the fire to keep those same, the accomplishments that we have made. I think we still have a long way to go in all areas. Even now, in the area of employment, we don’t want to start thinking that we are there. We don’t want to feel like the rights are there and we’re good to go. There’s still people who are constantly not acquiring the employment they need or the support they need. In the area of education, there’s still struggles to have funds applied that would make sure that people with disabilities are treated equally. The area of, say, healthcare and whatnot, there are still issues that have to be dealt with. So I’m saying it’s across the board, it’s just a matter of not becoming complacent.
Ralph Shelman: People with disabilities have to maintain a careful watch to ensure that we are treating these rights with the care that it deserves. People recognize when they think of our rights, when they think of people with disabilities and advancement, people think of the ADA. And I think that’s important because at least there is a recognition, there is, say, okay, people need… There are laws that have to be addressed, that we need to be careful of, but… So people recognize, for instance, more than what they had in the past, and that is that we have to recognize that people with disabilities do have these rights, whether we know it’s under this particular piece of legislation or the other.
Betsy Civilette: That also reminds me of something else you said at that conference, “Find your firebrands and develop them.” So tell us a little bit more what you meant by that.
Ralph Shelman: Some people with disabilities are walking into situations where they may not understand that what they have has been fought for and have to be protected. I think we have a tendency sometimes to take things for granted, and are not as committed to see what has to be defended, what has to be protected. And we sort of move on with our jobs, our lives, until we bump into something that may prevent us from accomplishing what we want to do. The driving force that led to the ADA was that people with disabilities understood that we have to look beyond our personal comfort and be prepared to fight for or defend the causes of people with disabilities as a whole. I was so pleased to see, a year or so ago, the younger movement in the disability movement, where people were again willing to confront the powers that be, even to being arrested again, to make a point, to prove we have not arrived, we are still on the road to fighting for the rights that we have.
Ralph Shelman: And I think sometimes we have to become a little uncomfortable, sometimes we have to push past what is our daily comfort level. We also have seen, through some of the more recent activity in the civil rights movement, that we have to uncover and expose the large things or the small things in order to ensure that we continue to hold on to the rights that our forefathers have fought for, and we need to do that within the disability rights movement as well. Understand that people like Jim Rothrock and John Chappell, Don Galloway, and all of those, Ed Roberts for that matter, who fought for rights that have led to all of the advances we have, all of that could be, in time, eroded. Through inattention, lack of activity, a lack of continuing to keep the fire going. And once your fire goes out, then you become stagnant.
Betsy Civilette: You and the other advocates you mentioned had such a profound impact on Virginia and nationally. If there’s one thing you could say about disability advocacy to the people listening to our show, what would you want them to know?
Ralph Shelman: We have accomplished much. We’re more and more passing the torch, and we need to be sure and comfortable that those who receive the torch, or the baton, whichever, will continue to treasure and to understand the value of what has been accomplished. And also understand that there is a responsibility to those who will follow them to ensure that people with disabilities do not become marginalized, that the programs and the rights that have been accomplished do not become so much of a bureaucracy that we hang on to just a semblance of what we have accomplished, instead of keeping it alive.
Ralph Shelman: I think anything that’s going to continue to grow and be vibrant has to have the commitment of people with disabilities, the intensity of the cause that makes our lives what it is. The value of just being able to live and be a part of the community is so important that we maintain it, and I’m grateful to see that is being understood and that we are building on that.
Betsy Civilette: Thank you, Ralph, for your insight and for the important work that you continue to do at the Peninsula Center for Independent Living.
Ralph Shelman: It’s a real great opportunity to speak with you and to have the opportunity to share my thoughts.
Rick Sizemore: Ralph Shelman is recognized throughout Virginia and the United States as a leader in the disability community. He leads the Peninsula Center for Independent Living in Hampton, Virginia. Betsy Civilette is the Communications Manager for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse with the always entertaining and informative Cherie Takemoto. Welcome to the podcast, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Thank you, and I think that Jacob might be one of my favorite stories. I love the animals.
Rick Sizemore: It’s a great story.
Cherie Takemoto: Yes, thank you so much. And so today I have an essential guide from the Youth Technical Assistance Center that synthesizes multiple federal statutes and regulations for youth disabilities, including that thing called sub-minimum wage, which Jacob does not have to worry about.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s an exciting and certainly informative piece of information. What else do you have for us?
Cherie Takemoto: Well, I have a roadmap for businesses to strategically plan and implement a successful, accessible, and inclusive workplace and marketplace, with 20 roadmaps and example strategies for solving some of the challenges that they may have ahead.
Rick Sizemore: That’s great.
Cherie Takemoto: Then Workforce GPS at the Department of Labor is always a great source of information for celebrating the Americans with Disability Act, so I have a link to that. As well as everyone’s wondering what to do about COVID-19 and all these protections, so the EEOC has a page dedicated to the APA Rehab Act and other EEO laws.
Rick Sizemore: Excellent.
Cherie Takemoto: So finally, for my bonus resources, I have one on the ADA and access for inmates and their visitors, as well as 10 tips for tapping into the talents of veterans with disabilities.
Rick Sizemore: Cherie Takemoto leads the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. Always a pleasure to have you on the show, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: Sure, and check the show notes for the links.
Rick Sizemore: Here’s Lynn Harris, Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Lynn Harris: The Foundation is pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives. Your support helps students gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, Dominion Energy, Daikin Applied, Hollister Inc., and United Bank. You can find out more about becoming a sponsor at wwrcf.org, or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation, here at the VR Workforce Studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Lynn Harris: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The Foundation publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio, and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in exchange for promotional considerations.